Sunday, October 12, 2008

[French Film Festival] Love Songs (Les Chansons D'amour)

Happy Bedfellows

In the running for the Palme d'Or in last year's Cannes Film Festival, Love Songs by Christophe Honore was nothing like what the writeup used in the festival synopsis would have let you believe. Either that, or I'm really dense to have trusted what was essentially a verbatim recap of only the first of three segments that this movie was split into – Departure, Absence and Return.

Rather than dwell on the non-existent and off screen manege-a-trios, it's more of a tale of grief and the handling of grief after personal tragedy. It seemed like an exploration of venturing into the extremes, of being experimental for the sheer thrill of it, of trying to lead a vastly different lifestyle in other to drown all memories of the deceased, of numbing oneself in excessive, meaningless sex. I would have welcomed the viewpoints of family members in depth, as the movie did spend some time to set up those characters, only to have relegated them with sideshow treatment, nothing more than caricatures from parents who try to engage their child's friends in order to discover hidden secrets unknown to them, to siblings who hang around trying to come to grips with the loss, only to find some questionable , eyebrow raising antics leading to assumptions and quick conclusions.

As a musical, the songs did feel a little out of place when the characters start to break into them, and seriously, I thought the lyrics could have been lost in translation, as sometimes I could not see how they either move the narrative forward, or speak from the heart the innermost thoughts from the characters mouthing those words. At some points it really felt a little bit forced, and have left one wondering about the relevance of those phrases sung, so while the meaning have probably been lost in me, it might be of relevance to French speakers.

While the movie stars Louis Garrel, Ludivine Sagnier and Clotilde Hesme, the bulk of the screen time belonged to Garrel's Ismael. The threesome relationship between their characters weren't exactly explained, only that they are strange bedfellows sharing their nights together. While Sagnier's Julie did reveal her uneasiness at such an arrangement, Hesme's Alice already knows of the boundaries within their relationships that she cannot cross, and as they toy around those forbidden lines, any sense of angst and unhappiness get sung away quite fleetingly.

In short, it's a film that lacked some crucial emotional punch, preferring to just scratch the surface and try to get away with it. Definitely trying to appeal to the niche crowd with its dalliances with hetero/lesbian/gay themes, but ultimately, came across as very forced and pretentious, trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole, if you can pardon the pun. Disappointing stuff.

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